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Have you ever wondered how a picture book is made? The process is similar to the way we play a team sport, put on a play, or build a sandcastle-through collaboration. Writers and illustrators collaborate in a variety of ways. Sometimes they start as friends who choose to work together. Sometimes they become friends through the work they do. And sometimes they find that their feelings and styles change to the point where they can no longer work together. Each collaborative team ...
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Have you ever wondered how a picture book is made? The process is similar to the way we play a team sport, put on a play, or build a sandcastle-through collaboration. Writers and illustrators collaborate in a variety of ways. Sometimes they start as friends who choose to work together. Sometimes they become friends through the work they do. And sometimes they find that their feelings and styles change to the point where they can no longer work together. Each collaborative team and venture is unique.
Side by Side focuses on five famous author/illustrator teams and favorite books they have published:
- Arthur Yorinks/Richard Egielski & Louis the Fish
- Alice Provensen/Martin Provensen & The Glorious Flight
- Jon Scieszka/Lane Smith/Molly Leach & The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
- Julius Lester/Jerry Pinkney & Sam and the Tigers
- Joanna Cole/Bruce Degen & The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses
Personal anecdotes, edited manuscripts, sketches, and dummy book pages show the give-and-take that goes on between authors, illustrators, editors, and designers as they are working on projects they feel passionate about. By taking readers behind the scenes of these works in progress, Marcus gives us insight into how teamwork, cooperation, and friendship play a role in shaping the creative process, and will inspire readers to view their own team effort in fresh new ways.
Describes the process by which several teams of authors and illustrators have created such picture books as "Louis the Fish," "The Glorious Flight," "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales," "Sam and the Tigers," and "The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses."
(born August 21, 1953, Roslyn, New York)
(born July 16, 1952, Queens, New York)
LOUIS THE FISH
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980)
The story of how writer Arthur Yorinks met illustrator Richard Egielski is about as unlikely as anything that happens in the comically odd and dreamlike picture books they created together, starting in 1977 with Sid and Sol.
In 1974, as a senior at New York's Parsons School of Design, Egielski took a class in children's-book illustration with Maurice Sendak, famed creator of Where the Wild Things Are. By the time he completed the class and graduated later that year, Egielski knew that picture-book making was the life for him.
A year later, and still looking for his first job as a book illustrator, Egielski decided one day to visit his old teacher at Parsons.
"So, I'm in the elevator and suddenly this guy I don't know pokes me in the back and asks me if my name is Richard. I think, `This is weird!' Then he says, `I'm Arthur Yorinks and I write stories.' I think, `Weirder and weirder!' Finally he says, `Maurice Sendak has told me about you!' I still don't understand—but now I am really listening. Then Arthur explained how Maurice had told him that he hoped we would meet. He'd said he thought we might make good collaborators. There was just one problem. Maurice couldn't remember my last name! So he described me toArthur instead, which he was able to do in incredible visual detail. And that's how when Arthur and I got into the elevator together at Parsons that afternoon, Arthur knew it was me."
Yorinks had copies of some of his stories with him that day and asked if Egielski would like to read them. "I said `sure,' and went through the stories while he looked at my portfolio."
"When I saw Richard's drawings," Arthur Yorinks recalls, "I thought, `Wow! A real artist!'"
Egielski remembers thinking: "`This is a nice guy and an interesting guy.' I liked Arthur's stories very much. One story I especially liked was called `Sid and Sol.'"
A few years earlier, Yorinks had become friends with Maurice Sendak in an equally far-fetched way. After reading an article about Sendak in the New York Times, Yorinks, then sixteen, had decided to find some way to meet the celebrated artist. He was thunderstruck by what seemed like striking similarities between Sendak's childhood and his own. (Both had been youngest children growing up in Jewish households on the edge of New York. As youngsters, both had spent endless hours inventing stories while looking out the window and listening to music.) Yorinks was convinced that Sendak would understand his stories and would perhaps know what he should do with them.
When the scruffy-looking teen showed up uninvited one afternoon at the artist's door, Sendak politely turned him away but invited Arthur to telephone him. Unsure of how Sendak would react if he really did call, Yorinks hesitated—several times hanging up before finally, one evening, saying who was calling. That evening, he and Maurice Sendak had a long phone conversation. More conversations followed. They met for lunch. It was after reading Yorinks's stories that Sendak described for him his tall, rail-thin former art student. As Yorinks listened, he thought sadly that in a city as big as New York he would never find this "Richard" in a million years.
Once they did meet, however, it took Yorinks and Egielski little time to realize how alike they were in many ways. They admired the same picture-book artists (besides Sendak: Tomi Ungerer, Edward Gorey, and James Marshall); the same writers (novelists Franz Kafka and Nikolai Gogol). They liked the same television shows and movies (Star Trek, King Kong, and Alfred Hitchcock thrillers). They had grown up near each other in similar neighborhoods: Egielski in Queens, New York; Yorinks just over the border in Nassau County, Long Island. "We both saw Manhattan as the Emerald City—the Land of Oz," Egielski says. "It was an exciting time. We were two struggling young guys with tiny apartments, each trying to make it in New York City."
Exciting, but also frustrating—neither was having much luck finding a publisher.
"Editors didn't know what to make of my stories," Yorinks says.
"I painted with lots of browns and grays," says Egielski, "and I didn't have cute little characters in my portfolio. I had gone to Catholic parochial school, and I did have a drawing of a nun with a ruler chasing one of her students down the hall! So, I wasn't getting picture-book assignments from publishers, who thought my work was too dark."
Each was determined to succeed and had decided by then that their best chance of doing so lay in finding someone to team up with. Each had good reason to think so. At the age of ten or eleven, Yorinks and a friend had made a comic book together and loved the experience. Egielski recalls: "When I was fourteen, I discovered The Hobbit and began drawing my own illustrations for Tolkien's fantasy. In a sense, that was my first experience of working with a collaborator. Drawing for me became a really cool way of getting deeper into the things I was reading."
They decided to do Sid and Sol on their own and worry about finding a publisher afterward. Because both needed to earn a living, progress on the book was slow. It took Egielski about a year to complete the art.
To their surprise, Sid and Sol was accepted by the second editor who saw it, Michael di Capua of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Expecting another rejection, Yorinks had shown di Capua just the story at first and said nothing about Egielski's illustrations. But then another strange thing happened. Di Capua told Yorinks that he knew the perfect illustrator for his story—a young artist named Richard Egielski! Di Capua had seen Egielski's portfolio a year or so earlier and remembered it. To this, a dumbfounded Yorinks sputtered in reply, "But Richard already has illustrated the story!"
Maurice Sendak reviewed Sid and Sol in the New York Times, warmly praising the work of his talented young friends. Most reviewers, however, ignored their book about a funny little man (Sid) who somehow manages to stop an oafish giant (Sol) from destroying the world. Egielski recalls: "After Sid and Sol, no one knew who we were. No one ever asked for us. People didn't know we existed!" The book made very little money. While Egielski and Yorinks thought about a second book, each continued to do other work. Three years passed before they published their second picture book, Louis the Fish.
Yorinks had been making notes for Louis for over a year when late one night he wrote the whole story in nearly finished form in a single hour. Soon afterward, he stopped by Egielski's apartment with the manuscript. "I felt it was a good piece of work. Even so," Yorinks recalls, "I was extremely nervous about giving it to Richard. It was such a strange story."
Egielski was feeling nervous too. "I didn't read it while he was sitting there—that would have felt like too much pressure. But I read it when he left and liked everything about it. I called Arthur right away, and from then onward it came together very quickly." Their editor, Michael di Capua, also liked the story and said he was eager to publish it.
By then Egielski and Yorinks knew exactly how they liked to work together. Bits and pieces of images, memories, and other people's stories had all found their way into Yorinks's tale about an unhappy butcher's son who daydreams about fish—and then becomes a fish himself. Yorinks told Egielski about these influences. The most important had been Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," the surrealistic story of a young man who wakes up one morning to find that he has turned into a cockroach. Yorinks loved this powerful story that uses wild exaggeration to show how people sometimes change in ways that surprise themselves as well as everyone around them.
Not all of Yorinks's ideas came from books. The mother of a childhood friend had told him once about a relative with the very unusual habit of drawing pictures of fish on his basement walls. "That image stuck with me for years," Yorinks recalls. Before becoming a fish, Louis sits in the meat locker of the family butcher shop, drawing fish pictures.
As Egielski reread Yorinks's story, he reread Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" and thought about all the things Yorinks had told him. Pictures began to form in his mind. "I like," he says, "not to put anything down on paper for the first week or two. Once I put an image down, it becomes hard to forget. By running different possibilities through my head, I can decide which ones I want to remember."
Egielski next made a sequence of thumbnail sketches—squiggly pencil drawings laid out in rows like a comic strip. His goal at this stage was to show, in a general way, what each illustration would be about and how the pictures would flow from one to the next.
A few years earlier, when Egielski had first shown Yorinks his thumbnail sketches for Sid and Sol, Yorinks had taken one look at the artist's squiggles and thought to himself, "Uh-oh! This guy's crazy." To Yorinks, the drawings had looked like meaningless doodles. "Then I learned to read Richard's hieroglyphics. When Richard showed me the thumbnails for Louis, I could see they made perfect sense."
Next Egielski made a dummy. These new drawings were highly detailed—and almost identical in composition to the finished watercolors Egielski painted in the third and final stage of his work. "Louis sprang up pretty much whole," he recalls with pride. "Arthur and I were really in tune."
Egielski showed his dummy, and later the first piece of finished art, to Michael di Capua, who was delighted with his progress. As work continued, Yorinks would occasionally drop by Egielski's apartment to see how things were going. The two friends often talked by phone. But as eager as Yorinks was for Louis to be published, he never asked Egielski when the art would be done. "I hated waiting!" Yorinks recalls.
"Arthur," says Egielski, "was very patient."
Meanwhile, their conversations—and similar backgrounds—helped Egielski to understand and picture Louis's world. "Louis's apartment is based on a friend's in the Bronx," he recalls. But the apartment might just as well have been one remembered from Yorinks's childhood. "And I got the idea of doing the aerial view of Louis tossing and turning in bed from Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho—a movie that Egielski knew Yorinks liked, too. "I thought it would add the right feeling of strangeness to the scene in which he's having his dream." And he knew that Yorinks would think so, too.
Yorinks made Louis a salmon because "the word salmon sounded funny to me. I'm Jewish, and because smoked salmon is a Jewish delicacy, it sort of made Louis Jewish, too, which I also thought was funny."
Egielski found his own way to have fun with the fish. "Mostly I like to make things up. But when something specific is mentioned that people might recognize, I feel I have to do a little research. When I read in Arthur's manuscript that Louis became a salmon, I thought, `I don't know a salmon from a mackerel from a bluefish.' And I didn't want someone who knows about fish to say, `That doesn't look like a salmon.' So I'm thinking, `Maybe I had better get a picture of a salmon somehow.' I remember looking around our apartment, starting with the dictionary. But there was no picture of a salmon there. So I went to the grocery store and I found a can of salmon. I was being very careful with my money and didn't want to buy the can. So I stripped the label off the can and put the label in my pocket and hoped I wouldn't be arrested on my way out of the store. The salmon on that can is what I used to draw Louis."
Work continued to go well. Their editor had only one major worry: what to call this very odd book. "We had a working title," Egielski says, "that I thought was great. We were going to call it `The Butcher.' But then Michael said one day, `That's a horrible title for a picture book!' So we began to think, `What do you call a book like this?' We tossed around ideas. Arthur wrote out a list."
"It was Michael," Yorinks says, "who came up with `Louis the Fish.'"
"The truth is," Egielski recalls, "we were nervous about Louis. It was only our second book and it was really pretty strange—with the fish and the father dying and the black bunting and all that meat! Then when Louis came out we got great reviews. It was thrilling to have our work recognized. We felt hopeful and optimistic. We felt kind of like a rock band!"
"People," says Yorinks, "thought of us as interchangeable. Half the time, people still didn't know who did what. But it hardly seemed to matter because now—a little bit like `Rodgers and Hammerstein' or `Laurel and Hardy'—we were `Yorinks and Egielski!'"
Great reviews did not mean big sales for Louis the Fish, however. To their disappointment, they found that they still needed to spend much of their time doing other kinds of work. Yorinks was having some success as a playwright. Egielski illustrated for magazines, as he had done since art school. To be sure of having enough longer-term projects to keep him busy, he began to illustrate picture books by other writers as well.
Good things also happened for them as a team. In 1983, public television's Reading Rainbow featured Louis the Fish in its first season. Reading Rainbow made many more people aware of the book, which led to a jump in sales. In 1987, Egielski won the Caldecott Medal for their fourth picture-book collaboration, Hey, Al. After that, everyone interested in children's books knew about Yorinks and Egielski.
They did four more books together. Then, with their eighth picture book, Christmas in July (1991), and after more than sixteen years of working together, their collaboration seemed to come to an end.
Both say it is hard to know exactly why they stopped collaborating. According to Yorinks: "I got more involved in the theater. Richard's interest in writing his own stories grew stronger. We each started up other collaborations. But there was never one moment when we said, `It's over.'"
According to Egielski: "Louis came out three years after Sid and Sol. It Happened in Pinsk came out three years after Louis. To keep our momentum going, we should have been doing a book a year. It hurt us that we weren't able to. I guess we were unlucky that way."
Egielski wonders whether some collaborations—like some friendships and other important relationships—simply run their course. "We knew from Sid and Sol that we had some things in common. That was a start. And then there's always going to be one point when collaborators are most together. For us that point came with Louis. But it would seem almost impossible to maintain that point for a long period of time. You can stay within a certain range of each other and continue to work together for a while, but eventually you want to do things differently. And that's when collaboration doesn't work any longer."
Both men remember the years they worked together as a good and happy time, and both say they would like one day to collaborate again. "Richard was such a master at making visual sense of my ridiculously strange stories," Yorinks recalls. "And because I could not illustrate my own picture books, it was Richard in a way who completed the stories. I could never wait to see what he would do."
The experience was much the same for Egielski: "Going from working by myself, as an art school student, to working with a collaborator was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It was really cool. I felt complete. With Louis, I felt that we had a really solid, seamless blending of our stuff. It was a great thing, and I think it was great for both of us."
Some Books Written by Arthur Yorinks
and Illustrated by Richard Egielski
|Sid and Sol (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Louis the Fish (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
It Happened in Pinsk (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Hey, Al (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Bravo, Minski (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Oh, Brother (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Ugh (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Christmas in July (HarperCollins)
Excerpted from SIDE BY SIDE by Leonard S. Marcus. Copyright © 2001 by Leonard S. Marcus. Excerpted by permission.
|Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski Louis the Fish||9|
|Alice Provensen and Martin The Glorious Flight||19|
|Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, and Molly Leach The Stinky Cheese|
|Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales||28|
|Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney Sam and the Tigers||38|
|Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen The Magic School Bus Explores|